Given its size, there's no shortage of options when it comes to education in Houston. There are several school districts in the Greater Houston area which contain numerous public and private schools.
With so many choices, expat parents will need to carefully evaluate their priorities before choosing a school – including their budget, the proximity of the school from home and the workplace, the curriculum they would like their child to learn, and the kind of teaching environment that's best for their child.
Public schools in Houston
The greatest perk of public schools in Houston is that the Texas education system doesn't charge tuition, and expats and locals alike can take advantage of it. However, that doesn’t mean parents shouldn't do preliminary research. Even though all public schools teach a state-mandated curriculum, the standard of each institution can vary immensely.
Some districts are consistently associated with high standards, while others aren't. Since students attend schools based on attendance zones, it’s important for parents to consider the quality of an area's schools when looking for accommodation in Houston.
To determine the standard of educational facilities in a district, parents can consult Academic Excellence Indicator System (AEIS) reports, which evaluates school districts and individual schools. After selecting a few schools that seem to fit the bill, it’s always a good idea to visit them in person, preferably during school hours, and meet with an administrator to learn a little more about them.
Charter schools and magnet schools
The public school system in Houston also includes charter schools and magnet schools. Charter schools receive state funding and uphold the state curriculum, but tend to be more innovative and flexible than traditional public schools. Magnet schools also use state funding but typically have specialised curricula. They're associated with high achievement and cultural diversity.
Both are good options for parents looking for an affordable but elevated standard of education for their children. That said, admission can be competitive and waiting lists can be long – lottery systems are often used to confirm enrolment.
Private and international schools in Houston
As in most destinations, private schools in Houston are assumed to provide a wider array of extra-curricular activities, better facilities, smaller student-to-teacher ratios, and a higher level of instruction.
Private schooling is a broad category that includes international schools, religious schools and alternative-learning schools like Montessori. Some schools uphold the state curriculum, while others follow foreign curricula or offer the International Baccalaureate.
These schools charge tuition and, in the case of international schools, fees can be steep. Parents should also apply as early as possible since the best schools usually have long waiting lists.
Homeschooling in Houston
Parents in the state of Texas don't need special permission to homeschool their children. It's therefore possible for children to be homeschooled in Houston. Texas law requires that the instruction be bona fide. A visual curriculum must be followed – in other words, children need access to books, workbooks, video monitors, etc. The curriculum also needs to include basic subjects including reading, spelling, grammar, maths and good citizenship.
Expat parents will be able to teach their children in the privacy of their own homes, at another family's home or make use of a tutor. Homeschool centres aren't regulated by die state. Local school officials have the right to check in and make sure that children are receiving proper education.
Tutoring in Houston
Tutoring is widely available to students in Houston. There is a range of options available. Parents will find that many older students make themselves available for tutoring. Tutoring companies like Suprex Learning also have options that include private in-home one-on-one sessions, small group sessions, and online tutoring.
Parents may find it useful to enquire at their child's school or from other parents to find out which tutors are dependable.
Special needs education in Houston
Parents of children with special needs in Houston can choose between public schools, private schools and homeschooling. It's up to the parents to decide what type of education would suit their child's needs best.
Parents should connect with friends, other parents and neighbours to learn about experiences they may have had at different schools. Once parents have identified a number of possible schools, read about the school online by visiting the school's state accountability rating on the Texas Education Agency's website.
Public schools in Houston must give a child a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). This means the school must assist parents in finding out if their child has a disability and then develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Public schools aren't allowed to discriminate against children with special needs.
Many parents prefer to send their children to a private school. These schools still allow inclusive education, but with the added benefit of smaller classes which means more individual attention.
There are also a number of specialised schools in Houston. These schools are aimed at children who need to learn in specialised environments. Schools like the Arbor School and Briarwood provide learning environments that encourage the total development of each student.